Illustrator Interview – Akiko White

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aki profileAs all my blog followers know, I am a huge fan of the SCBWI and highly recommend children’s authors and illustrators to join and become involved in this society. I apply for and follow keenly their awards, and just as a little aside, the Inaugural SCBWI Spark Award and Honor winners were published last week, here!  Akiko’s work came to my attention because she was this year’s winner of the prestigious Tomie de Paola Award and, well, CAKE + ILLUSTRATIONS, I just had to know more.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?             

[AW] I am an author/illustrator. It depends on the story and how it comes to me. I have put my pen to paper and written out the whole picture book text. I have also taken my sketchbook and started roughly laying out a story in a storyboard approach with my images. When an idea comes to me, I have to get it out of my head and see it on paper.

[JM]  Where are you from and how has that and/or where you have lived/visited influenced your work?

[AW] Just East of Abilene, there is a small west Texas town called Cisco. It was a town of about 3500 people. I lived there during my childhood. I knew everyone and everyone knew me. Growing up in a small town is very different than the city. Everyone was close and very supportive of each other, but they also knew everything about you, your family and your past. I was the forth generation to grow up in that town.  The biggest difference that I had to face growing up was that I was half Japanese. My mother was Japanese. She and my father met while he was in NYC going to college. I’m sure when she met my father she didn’t realize she would have to adapt to the small town. I can’t imagine how foreign that must have been for her. There was only one other Japanese family in our town. If we wanted to have any Japanese food, we would travel over 100 miles to Dallas/Ft. Worth to stock up on groceries. I am very influenced by my Japanese heritage.

I moved to San Antonio for college, and after I was married, we moved to the Texas Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio. I love the culture that San Antonio has to offer and now that we live on a farm, I am enjoying the influences of my farm animals and the scenery of the beautiful Texas Hill Country.

Traveling has also become a part of my stories and illustrations. I’ve been to Japan several times and we still have family there. I have also traveled to Europe a couple times. One can really appreciate all the different cultures, not to mention the wonderful food that other countries can offer. And yes, I am a foodie!

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[AW] When I was very young, both my American grandmother and my mother encouraged me to play with art and baking. They were both very good artist and chefs. I took an oil painting class with them when I was only 4 years old. At my grandmother’s house I would sit on the counter tossing things into the Kitchen Aid and help her bake. I also remember a time in Sunday school class where the teachers were impressed that I could use my scissors so well to cut things out. I guess I have always been good with creating art with my hands.

My favorite thing to do growing up was drawing. We didn’t have any art classes in school but I always loved to draw and paint anything that I could. While attending Cisco Jr. College I started to take art classes and did many life drawings of classmates. We would take turns being the model. I went on to the Mcnay Art School in San Antonio to finish up my degree. There I learned my fine art foundation in sculpting, ceramics, painting, illustration, printmaking, and drawing. It was a very small school where the students were fortunate to get a lot of attention. Unfortunately, it had to close before I graduated so I finished my last year at Texas State University where I learned about graphic design.

I worked in at an educational publishing house for several years. They had a children’s book division where I did mainly layout and design. Graphic design has helped me in being able to see my vision of my art much clearer. I have a better since of perspective and design because of that knowledge.

After my job at the publishing house, I worked as a freelance designer and started painting again in 2010. During that time I was also pursuing my Children’s book illustration and writing career.

[JM] Where did you come up with the idea of combining baking and illustration?

[AW] This is something that organically happened to me. I have always loved baking, and had become really busy making cakes for my family and friends, but all along I was also illustrating in watercolors and oils. When the Tomie dePaola deadline was approaching I decided to give Cakelustrating a shot. What did I have to loose, I could do what ever I wanted to and have complete fun with it. I already had a sketch for the prompt that Tomie had put up to illustrate a poem about a sneeze; I just needed to figure out how I would do it in cake and fondant. It really came natural to me and I guess it showed. I think you have to go with your gut feelings and just do what you love. If you do that then it will show in your work. Don’t think too much about it, just do it!

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[AW] Animals are what seem to pop up in my artwork. I’m particularly fond of farm animals because I interact with them on a daily bases. Horses have always been my favorite as well as dogs. But for some reason I have been putting mice in my illustrations. I guess because they are small and can be very precocious. I do enjoy Japanese themes too. I love the vibrant colors they use in their pop art and the textures and patterns that are found on kimono fabrics. I also appreciate the Japanese brushwork.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[AW] Cluttered with all kinds of inspiration! I surround myself with many things that I like. I have a studio space in my garage and I do a lot of my brainstorming and cake making in my kitchen. I do get a lot of natural sunlight in our kitchen and I tend to paint or do my fondant modeling there too.  I guess I’m pretty fortunate that my family puts up with all my creative mess around our house.



[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[AW] At the moment I am working on redoing some pieces of my portfolio. Here are a few photos of “Yuki and the 7 monks”. My take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” My inspiration came from my mother’s name is Yukiko, which means snow.

photo 1 photo 4 photo 5 Yuki White and the 7 Monks copy

[JM] Congratulations on your recent win of the SCBWI 2014 Tomie de Paola award. What tips can you give new illustrators wanting to apply for this for the first time next year?

[AW] I suggest making sure you read Tomie’s prompt for the project thoroughly. When it says that it will be pitched as a poem book for toddlers, then make the art appropriate for toddlers. Once you have your idea then have FUN with it! This next prompt is very interesting; one must come up with a 4-6 panel visual sequence without words. It’s a two-part project where the first 10 finalists will be prompted again to do a final illustration for the win.  Here is the link to the next Tomie dePaola promt:

Good luck to you all!

[JM Are there any courses or associations you would recommend to other illustrators?

[AW] If you are not an SCBWI member I would highly suggest becoming one. There are so many resources within this organization that can help you in your kid-lit journey. Not to mention the support of others doing the same as you.

There are many workshops around the nation. The Highlights Foundation has great opportunities. In Austin, we have the Writing Barn. I’m sure if you do some research you can find some in your area.

Make sure you are drawing and/or writing all the time. Join a critique group or take a life drawing class. There is nothing better than practicing drawing and/or writing skills.

[JM]  What art do you have hanging in your house?

[AW] I have my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my mother-in-laws, my cousin and my own oil paintings along with various drawings and paintings done by my children. I also have artwork from other published and unpublished illustrators hanging in my home.

[JM] And hot off the press, please tell us the great latest scoop about signing with an agent?

[AW] Well, I am happy to announce that I will be working with Rick Margolis who founded Rising Bear Literary Agency. Rick worked with the library school journal for 14+ years interviewing many award winning authors and illustrators. He approached me soon after I won the Tomie dePaola award. I took my time choosing an agent because I wanted to make sure that I had found “my literary soul-mate”. It is important to ask many questions. You should feel like your agent totally gets you for who you are and what your writings and illustrations represent.  With Rick I felt like we compliment each other. I’m looking forward to the future with Rising Bear Literary Agency.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

[JM] What word best sums you up?                                                                           [AW] Tenacious

[JM] If you could live anywhere for a few months, where would you go?           [AW] Japan

[JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?          [AW] Loose leaf brewed green tea (hot or cold)

[JM] Cats or dogs?                                                                                                             [AW] 5 cats, 4 dogs, 8 chickens, 6 sheep, 3 goats, a pig, a pony and a miniature donkey.

DSC_0347 DSC_9878Harry Goat

DSCF1814 DSCF2749 DSCF1748 IMG_7190 DSC_8804 IMG_1365

Please apologize to all the animals whose photos I didn’t upload!

[JM] Which literary bad guy do you like the most?                                                    [AW] Do I have to choose only one? Ok, Dr. Suess’s villains because of his funtacular words!

[JM] Where can we find/follow you and your work?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Of course you’re a foodie! This was such a comprehensive and fun interview. I love discovering more about your life and influences. How wonderful that there is so much talent shared around in the family. Thank you so much for sharing with us today and huge congratulations, once again, on signing with Rick Margolis! To your continued success, Akiko!

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20 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Akiko White

  1. Dana Carey says:

    Delicious interview! Thanks, Akiko and Joanna!

  2. Great to learn more about Akiko – thanks for the interview, and congratulations, Akiko, on all your recent successes!

  3. What a unique medium to use. Never heard of Cakelustrating. But, I love what she created. Interesting interview and I enjoyed learning more about Akiko. Would be interested in seeing the Japanese influence in her work.

    • Akiko White says:

      Thank you Patricia, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I just realized that I didn’t comment! Japanese prints will be in my future. I am working on creating some of those influences into my art soon.

  4. Fabulous interview, Joanna and Akiko! Wonderful to learn more about you and to see all of the super pics of your world. Congrats on the new agent and here’s to many Cakelustration books and projects in the future!

  5. This really resonated with me, “go with your gut feelings and just do what you love”! I think that should be a mantra to guide all of us. Finding one’s literary soul-mate in an agent also resonated with me (and is something I hope to share soon). I loved Akiko’s piece for the Tomie de Paola Award and am delighted to have this chance to get to know her better! She is a woman after my own heart with the farm animals and being a foodie.

    Thanks, Joanna and Akiko!

  6. WOW! Ms. White’s art work is AMAZING!!! Great interview! I love her answer to the Cat/Dog question! 😉

  7. Bert says:

    Very nice work. Really love the creativity..

  8. Great interview Akiko and Joanna!

  9. Rhythm says:

    Wow! What an incredibly unique individual! i love the whole idea of illustrating with cake! YUmmmmmm! what does she do with it all after the photos are taken? i hope her dogs help her dispose of it. Or maybe it becomes petrified sculpture? It’s fun that Akiko is from my part of the world. Cisco is not too far from me. Thanks for a fascinating interview!!

    • Akiko White says:

      Thank you to another west Texas person! To answer your question, some of them get eaten, but others are petrified in my house, just waiting for the ants to come eat them!

  10. Tina Wissner says:

    Great interview.
    I think Akiko’s unphotographed animals will forgive her for not posting them.
    They were probably having a bad hair day anyway!

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